By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- The valley's military veterans received a salute at the Shenandoah County Fair on Thursday with a ceremony and activities that continued through the day.
Dozens of people, many of whom are veterans from World War II through recent conflicts, sat in the grandstand to watch the ceremony.
"It is because of the selfless, brave, courageous men and women -- our veterans -- who are sitting in the grandstands with us today that the number of free people around the world continues to grow and freedom continues its march," said U.S. Marine Corps veteran Wade Zirkle, master of ceremonies for the event.
Retired U.S. Army Col. Ray Powell, president of Chapter 936 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, served as chairman for the fair tribute day. Students from Massanutten and Shenandoah Public Schools participated in an essay contest on why the writers like living in America, according to Powell. Another essay contest focused on how the student participants felt when they saw a person in military uniform or a veteran.
"It was heartwarming to read all of these essays submitted," Powell said. "We learned that our next generation does appreciate the freedoms that we have in the United States. These freedoms were won and maintained by veterans, such as each of you, not politicians."
Retired U.S. Army Major Gen. Thomas H. Tait served as the guest speaker. Tait, 80, originally from Glen Cove, N.Y., delivered the veterans tribute address.
"There's no question about it: Our veterans have helped make, if not made, this country," Tait told the crowd. "I salute you all for having served our cherished country and for defending it. This is something that we can be proud of and wonderful that our citizens are now once again beginning to honor those who have served."
Tait gave some statistics about the growing number of veterans living in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. He also spoke about the Wounded Warriors program which works to help veterans and active duty soldiers.
The fair, which allowed free admission to veterans for most of the day, featured an activities tent full of displays by support organizations.
"It's from the heart," said U.S. Army veteran Art LaFlam of the tribute. "It's very good for the veterans, to keep the veterans together."
LaFlam, of Woodstock, served in the Vietnam War from 1965-1968. LaFlam served his first tour with the 25th Infantry Division, then two tours with the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, during which time he worked as a light weapons adviser for the Vietnamese infantry
LaFlam noted that he wished the fair would extend the free admission to veterans into the evening hours.
"I think there's a lot more they could still do for the veterans," LaFlam said